Review: Jonathan Slinger's Hamlet for the RSC and who I think should have played the lead
Spent the first half an hour recasting the RSC's Hamlet. Jonathan Slinger wears the sort lumpy suit you see an accountant wear, he looks like a dad trying to pull off retro glasses whereas the youthful, sparky Horatio (Alex Waldmann), supposedly his university friend seems like a shoe-in for the part of the troubled mature student.
After Hamlet has encountered the ghost, the spectacles come off and the suit is exchanged for the trademark dishevelled clothing and mismatched socks. (Not sure we need psychiatrists any more just institutionalise anybody who can't pull their socks up to the same height or put their clothes on the right way around).
Ironically the suit is the straight jacket in this scenario, without it Slinger's performance becomes freer and more interesting. His is probably the most mad Hamlet I've seen but mad with anger just as often as with lost faculties.
If indeed madness, it gives him a unfeeling, remorseless edge seemingly unperturbed by his murder of Polonius (Robin Soans) and acquiescing to Laertes request for forgiveness almost dismissively. It makes it harder to understand why Horatio wants to die with his princely friend.
It is this disturbed, disconnected Hamlet that perhaps sets this production apart from others but it isn't enough to make it particularly memorable. Slinger's performance felt sort of appropriate for his age but despite his extreme talent his Hamlet is just too old. It makes the set up of the story harder to swallow.
Insight into some of the characters motivation was also left wanting. Greg Hicks gives Claudius a swagger that suggests an arrogance and cockiness but there is little else to suggest his motivation for going for the glamourously dressed but nonetheless mumsy looking Gertrude (Charlotte Cornwall). Neither is there any clue as to her motivation for the marriage.
It left me mentally writing my own direction for the characters; I'd have Hicks obviously feigning love for Gertrude while trying to bed the younger female courtiers, a power play and nothing more. Gertrude has been blinded by his motives.
But back to David Farr's production. For me it felt a little too safe and not quite as interesting or dramatic as Hamlet can be which, in turn, comes back to my re-casting. Alex Waldmann has proved a more than capable Shakespearean actor and having followed him from the Hamlet matinee into an evening performance of Orlando in As You like It I was even more convinced.
His boyish looks for his 35-years would have immediately made for an interesting play. I'm just getting bored of seeing actors who look like they would have long ago been forced into a politically advantageous marriage to a wife who is producing heirs playing at being a student. (I can bore for England on my reasons why Hamlet is actually younger than the play seems to state and works better as a result).
Talking to an Australian lady about Alex Waldmann she commented that as soon as she saw him she wished he'd been playing the lead and I couldn't have agreed more with her. So this is my plea to the RSC, take a punt on Waldmann but sooner rather than later. Oh and best friend Jen and I have a request for Othello for next year's annual Stratford outing please. Thank you.
There are a few but Pippa Nixon is my favourite. The first play I saw her in was the wonderful Bea at the Soho Theatre with Al Weaver who shared the role of Hamlet with Mr W.
The Night Alive, Donmar Warehouse
The Cripple of Innishmaan, Noel Coward Theatre